Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore met UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin for the first time on Tuesday to discuss how to avoid fixture clashes between domestic games and European club competitions.
Scheduling has become an increasingly fraught issue for the top national leagues, and Ceferin told reporters at last month’s UEFA Congress in Helsinki he wanted to discuss it with Scudamore “very soon.”
This followed Stoke’s rearranged visit to Manchester City in March being played at the same time as two round-of-16 games in the Champions League, including Barcelona’s thrilling 6-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain.
There was a memorandum of understanding between the leagues, represented by the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), and UEFA to avoid such clashes but it expired in March and the EPFL’s members have threatened to schedule games in UEFA slots.
EPFL chairman Lars-Christer Olsson was also at the meeting with Ceferin and Scudamore at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
Olsson, a former UEFA chief executive, has led the complaints from many domestic leagues against UEFA’s decision to give the top flights in England, Germany, Italy and Spain four places each in the Champions League group stage from 2018 to 2021.
Ceferin was elected to the UEFA presidency last year thanks to votes from many of Europe’s smaller nations, so could be sympathetic to these complaints but unwilling to unpick a carefully constructed deal with the continent’s biggest clubs, particularly as it predated his arrival.
But Ceferin made his feelings about the threat to schedule domestic games against the Champions League and Europa League very clear in Finland last month when he said: “I don’t like it.”
When pressed, he added: “Maybe sometimes — I hope rarely — it may be impossible to play at different times, but in principle we have to have an agreement about that and I think it’s important also for the Premier League.”
The Premier League, however, has defended its right to schedule games on the same dates as UEFA, saying it is “occasionally unavoidable.” It has also pointed out UEFA has “exacerbated the fixture challenges English football faces” by taking more dates for its competitions’ knockout stages.
UEFA announced on Wednesday afternoon, meanwhile, that Ceferin had decided European trophies — at both club and international level — will be presented to the winning captains on the pitch from this year. Manchester United and Ajax contest the Europa League final in Stockholm next Wednesday, with the women’s Champions League final (Lyon vs. PSG) in Cardiff on June 1 and the men’s Champions League final (Real Madrid vs. Juventus) also in the Welsh capital on June 3.
“The pitch is the players’ stage and it is only fitting that their achievements are celebrated there,” Ceferin said.
“It also makes sense that the officials should come down from the stands to the players — to their arena — and pay tribute to them in presenting the trophy and medals on the playing surface.”
The European governing body said purpose-built stages had been produced, and assembling them will take less than five minutes.
It added in a statement: “The return to on-pitch presentations will give all fans in the stadium a better view of the trophy lifts, while the television audience will also get clearer pictures.”